ELDER MUSIC: 1974
A Workbook for Healthy Aging

The Forgotten Generations and Ageism

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In what is an otherwise laudable if not particularly special appeal to stop the conflation of old age with death, writer Amy Gutman in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, summed up this way:

”We baby boomers (soon to be joined by our GenX peers) have few guideposts to follow in designing fulfilling and productive lives for 30 more years.

“This makes it all the more important that we both recognize the issue at hand and talk to and learn from one another. For now, our proper focus is not 'aging and death.' It’s 'aging and life.'”

Hey, Amy. I'm older than baby boomers but I'm a long way from dead yet.

In two short sentences, Ms. Gutman has consigned me along with everyone else currently over the age of 68 to irrelevance.

It feels a lot like the years during which the women's movement ignored our sisters who chose full time motherhood. It took decades to repair that lamentable and unnecessary rift.

This time it is the baby boomer generation, replicating the role of careerist feminists, rejecting generations older than themselves (instead of mothers).

Move along now. Nothing to see here, nothing to learn. Only we baby boomers and a few gen-xers need apply.

This is not new from boomers. Hardly a day and certainly not a week passes when I don't find boomer-written references about ageing that specifically exclude anyone older.

(I don't mean to pick on Ms. Gutman but she is emblematic of an ongoing, widespread attitude. She's getting called out only because she is the most recent to raise my hackles and happened to do it on a day I decided to finally speak up.)

Deliberately omitting more than 31 million people (the population age 69 and older) from the conversation about growing old is another of the many forms of ageism.

Although Ms. Gutman and some of her generation appear lately to accept their own aging and want to find ways to change negative attitudes that remove old people from the mainstream of life, she immediately dismisses the one group who actually knows something about “designing a fulfilling and productive” old age.

I suspect the reason is what it has always been – denial:

Oh, I'm not like those old people over there. Don't confuse me with the ones on the bench in the park or the bridge bunch at the senior center. I'm getting old differently from them.

It's not enough to say, as old people too often do, oh, well – their turn will come. If old people are going to ever be accorded the respect and dignity all people deserve, it has to start now. The older generations cannot, should not pit themselves one against the others.

Amy Gutman is right, we need a public conversation about growing old (god knows I've been trying here for 10 years). But it is doomed from the start when any part of the group is excluded.

If Ms. Gutman doesn't think we of the generations older than she have anything worthwhile to say about fulfilling and productive lives in old age, she could start educating herself by reading just one post (among many) at this blog.

There is much that is rich, thoughtful and even wise in last Friday's conversation, filled with a variety of ideas about how to live and contribute during the last third of our lives.

Comments

Thanks for this post. I missed reading your blog on Friday and just went back to it. My older life is made up of both routine and slacking. During the week I have a daily routine of yoga, walking, swimming, errands, reading, creating, cooking and movie watching. Saturday is my chore day and Sunday I slack. I am only bored when the weather is bad and I am cooped up. Life is meant to be lived, however we desire it. I'm 71.

Only the young (however the term is defined) understand aging, it seems.

Baby Boomers by their sheer numbers have always commanded a lot of space in the media and attention in the marketplace. It's never bothered me because it is what it is and I've always considered myself on the cutting edge of the Boomers. Every time I want or need something designed for whatever age I'm at (or was at) all I have to do is wait a few years and sure enough the Boomers start needing those things, too, and the marketplace responds to their numbers to produce those services and goods I've lusted after.

Ms Gutman may (or may not) think there are few role models above the age of Baby Boomers for living productive lives but why should I care about her delusions? The Boomers as a whole have always been led to believe the world revolves around them...because it has all of their lives. When they started going to school, new buildings got built to house them all, for example. The health care industry is gearing up now for the same flux to hit them.

All writers and blogs target a specific age group that doesn't mean the others are chopped liver in their eyes so I have nothing to criticize Ms Gutman about. Just because she doesn't write about people older than 68 doesn't mean we're irrelevance by omission.

Good one to think about...but I'm beginning to wonder if the elders that are ahead of the boomers ought not to have their own identity, instead of being lumped together from 62-100. That's a lot of different identifiers. If you go with generations, we've got about 3-4 that are all lumped together into "old-ness." I was struck by hearing another senior talk about how hard it is for people to understand us who had not gone through the "straight-laced nineteen fifties."

The major group that has to be educated the most about ageism will be the people who care for or will be caring for us baby boomers. As of right now, the people who run many nursing homes and assisted living facilities have a tendancy to lump all residents under their care into one all-inclusive catagory...OLD.
Although I am only 69, I am perceived by the management of the ALF I live in as being in the same catagory as the 80 year olds that share the space with me. As a post WW2 "baby" , my views and abilities in many cases, are so far opposite from those septo's and octo's that we , for all practical purposes, are from a different planet.

Umm, I have had a couple of reactions to today's post. Yes, as a society we need to value the gifts and experiences of older people, what ever the age. And it is a conversation we need to continue. Ronni, I think your blog helps with the discussion - I have been reading it and sharing it with friends and family for a couple of years who are a multitude of ages.

As a boomer, I started searching a few years back to learn from those who have gone before me (that is how I found your blog). I watched what my parents did and didn't do; and my grandparents before them and I am working to find my way. Some of the things I observed I don't want to follow and others I do - such is the reality of being the next generation, I am certain my children will follow some of my actions and ignore others.

Thanks for the conversation.

Jean said all I wanted to say, And death does follow old age. It's a fact of life.

I'm not a baby boomer. I'm a war baby. Still, I agree with Gutman's assessment that my "proper focus is not 'aging and death.' It’s 'aging and life.'” At least until my health dictates otherwise.

I've long heard many old people lament, "Those youngsters just don't listen to us." Nothing new about that.

However, the boomers and other generations to come are missing a lot of good stuff. The trick should be to listen carefully to the elder wisdom, as we are told happens in other societies, and apply the best of it to current situations.

When will they ever learn?

What PiedType said.

We're all in this crazy world together, why not accept and learn from each generation? I am also a war baby, but today I tutored a twenty two year old high school dropout who has returned to adult education.

His past includes gang fights, stealing, selling dope. but his grandmother helped him turn his life around.

Some you win.

What Becky stated. Boomer here too, at 63, but I have followed your blog for a long time, truly a gift for those who are boomers.

When it comes to something so personal as life lessons, do we ever learn to listen to those who are older? Advice we disregarded as teenagers? As we grow into adulthood, for a time we discover that our parents weren't so ignorant after all. Unfortunately, as we become more competent in our own right, we tend to assume we know best again. Our elders again become less knowing and more irrelevant. Too bad too as mistakes and lessons learned have to be repeated. Has it always been that way? As a baby boomer myself, I seem to recall we fostered the "Me" generation. I have always enjoyed my elder friends and relatives for their stories and experiences, but still I have likely too often fostered that know it all manner. We need to find every opportunity to enlighten ourselves and those younger than us. I love the college student/senior living arrangements ,smart readers programs, and tutors like doctafill

One of the reasons that I have been reading your blog daily for more than 5 years is that I do feel that I am learning a lot about how to age. At 64, it is you Ronni and all the commenters who are teaching me. And for that I am very grateful.

Aren't we being kind of ageist here? I'm 91 but I don't necessarily identify with others in my "age group." And I suspect that's true of many others.

There is a huge generational difference in attitudes to aging. I moved into an area of retired people when I was 36 and can easily compare. My neighbour is 78 and extremely ill now; I'm arranging his caregiving as he is alone and totally lost. I knew him at 60 and compared to 60 year old men today it is like night and day.

Here are a few, my 60 year old friends are active in the gym, my neighbour did the same activities that an 80 year old would do. Puttering around the garden was about it. They never showed any interest in buying any new products, any home renovations or trying anything new. His wife did the curly "do" but never bought any new clothes in the 18 years I knew her. My new 60+ neighbours are still working, still renovating, still care about fashion.

The older crowd were hugely deferential to medical professionals, boomers are not. Here in Canada it is boomers who fought for assisted suicide. The older people are silent and accept the status quo of horrible deaths from starvation and deydration AKA palliative care.

My senior neighbours avoided all talk about illness, using euphemisms all the time and never admitting they had anything. My husband speaks openly about enlarged prostate symptoms - that was verboten in the older crowd. They never made any plans for stopping driving or getting dependent in any way and created huge messes for their families.

My boomer friends are already moving to walkable areas, taking dementia tests and basically not going into denial mode.

So you are completely wrong, there is a huge generational divide and it has to do with not avoiding talking about disability, planning more and then checking out on your own terms and not being a burden on others.

Like Jean, I'm just a little ahead of the first boomers, having been born in the last months of the war. It's certainly been true for me all my life that whatever happens to me because of my age, happens a year or so later to a very large number of people, and (after a great deal of noisy journalistic hand-wringing) some sort of response eventually shows up.

So I am optimistic that if I can just hold out a few years longer on needing, for instance, better conditions in nursing homes, there will have been enough public outcry that conditions will have improved.

Because you're right, Vera. Another thing that's true of that just-behind-me leading edge of the baby boom is that for all their adult lives, ever since the Flower Power sixties, more of them than average have thought of themselves as agents of major social change. They believe they can make things different, and in many ways they have done so.

Will this continue into their sunset years? Hmm, well. I do hope so.

We Boomers will not go gently into the good night as many of our predecessors did. We will go kicking and screaming and hurling epithets. We are not ready to relinquish control of this planet.
Even now, the country is forming sides. The upcoming presidential campaign and subsequent election will be pitting the older liberal baby Boomer Queen of the Left against the younger, rebellious (and in many cases vapid) Knights of the Right. It will come down to who can shout the loudest. I just hope we will have enough strength to open our mouths and speak up.

I'm a Boomer (sixty four) and, Ronni, you can sit at my lunch table, anytime.

I am a baby boomer soon to be 67 and my hubs of 41 years will be 68..growing old in the USA is hard as hell the way the pundits say baby boomers and older people we are just happy to be alive and living and have a home and food and hydration..we enjoy your blog, don't get upset by people's comments, you have a great blog with lots of great information..Why think anyone is offended we certainly are not, every generation has their good points and their peccadillos, it is great to live in the greatest county, both our parents are long long gone, they never got to retire and died young, not my hubs mom or dad his mom lived to 86 1/2 and his dad 74 both smoked day and night and his dad drank like a fish and took drugs, one never knows what the hell is to happen, they got their social security and also my fil got a tiny pension, but he kept smoking and drinking, my Mom passed when I was 8 and my Dad very young, you just never ever know, enjoy your life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bruce C., you are so right about the coming presidential campaign. I've already unsubscribed from several websites that are already soliciting me repeatedly for money. Now that I'm (involuntarily) retired, I have much less to give, so I hope there are a whole bunch of Progressives out there who can pitch in to thwart the Koch Brothers et. al.! Many of the "younger" boomers (and older Gen-Xers?) are indeed the Vapid Right.

I am 46 yrs old, obviously not a baby boomer. But I have worked as an aged care support person for several years. More than the post itself I am finding the comments here insightful.

I 100% agree with Bruce Cooper who said the ones needing to be educated are the ones who will be caring for the baby boomers. Years ago I did my training hours in a nursing home. That was the first and last time I'll ever work in one. There is a lack of treating care recipients in nursing homes as individuals, sadly, sometimes even as humans.

I ended up running my own Aged Care business for care at home. And I loved every minute of it. I created a caring work environment for my staff which translated to my clients being happy and cared for. So yes I agree, it is the ones in charge of care that need to be educated. More specifically at management level so it filters down to the hands on staff. How achievable this is though, I don't know.

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